At approximately two and a half hours, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is the longest movie in the series, and debatably, the most satisfying.
Firstly, because it has the advantage of being placed toward the end, where it can build off of plot points set down by previous instalments. It doesn’t draw as heavily from the past or nostalgia as its immediate predecessor, 2015’s “The Force Awakens.” This is a forward-looking story, with one foot in the past but not sinking into it.
Secondly, more than any of the previous films, “The Last Jedi” is jarringly and genuinely surprising.
Luke tells Rey at one point, “This is not going to go the way you think it will.” He was referring of course to her attempt to bring him back into the fight against the First Order, but those words also serve as a warning and a tease to the audience. It’s like the movie saying, “I know what you like and what you expect, but I’m going a different direction. I’m sure you’ll like it too.” And writer/director Rian Johnson’s rendition of the universe and its characters delivers on this promise in spades.
Everyone is back for this round, which picks up immediately after “Force Awakens” leaves off. Adam Driver who plays Kylo Ren redeems his character after a lukewarm introduction in Episode VII. Audiences were split on whether Kylo Ren was an unstable child with anger management issues or a serious successor to Darth Vader, whose work he has sworn to complete. Here, Kylo is much more nuanced, and at times even sympathetic.
Daisy Ridley’s character, Rey, is still lost and searching, and we catch up with her right at the moment the last movie ends, with her having found the legendary Luke Skywalker and handing him his lightsaber.
There is a strong theme in the movie that deals with the clash between the past and the future. While the new kids on the playground are coming up, the veterans of the series struggle to stay relevant. There is, among the more seasoned characters, a sense of failure. Luke perhaps has the most baggage among them all and so he essentially abandons them all in despair and lives out his days as a hermit, cut off from everyone else.
As for Princess Leia and the Rebel Alliance, though victorious over the old Empire, ultimately failed as well as the First Order was able to flourish and seize control of the galactic government from them. First Order itself is touted as a replacement, an improvement on the old Empire that was toppled in the battle of Endor in the original trilogy’s “Return of the Jedi.”
The older generation are slowly falling back to support roles, but what of those who will come next? For them, the movie is full of disappointment and trial. Not to give away any plot points, but nothing comes easy for any of them. They have to earn the right to be the center of their own stories and the focus of our attention. (And possibly their own trilogy)
Every character, old or new, has a past to be dealt with. And how they do, coupled with the consequences of their actions in doing so, are the heart of the story. Finn has his past in the First Order to deal with, Rey is finding her place in the scheme of things, and ace pilot Poe Dameron is frustrated with having to work within the chain of command of the Rebel Alliance.
There is growth in these characters, both young and old. It’s this dynamic pushing and pulling that makes the characters so interesting. To be honest the plot itself is very simple. Something needs to be done, there is a complication and everyone does their best to get it done regardless. But it is the growth of these characters that make it very compelling, and profoundly weighty. Despite having more comedic moments that seems appropriate at times, this is a “Star Wars” film with gravitas, and asks to be taken seriously.
Hope is a word that gets thrown around a lot, and it is the one thread that is common to everyone, hope for success, for victory and an end to the evil that plagues them. It unites them, binds them in such a way that whatever they are dealing with individually or collectively, at the end of the day, they do what needs to be done, because they either have that hope, or share that hope with others.
The film has many staggering moments, moments of revelation, surprise or those that make you clap or jam your fist into the air in appreciative triumph. The lightsaber combat sequence plays like a colourful but deadly dance and easily one of the more memorable in recent years. The story weaves around and carries you to and from these moments, gracefully setting you up for their maximum impact.
If there is a flaw at all in the film, is that at times it can feel like too much of a “Star Wars” film. That’s not a bad thing by any stretch but I couldn’t help but feel at times that the filmmakers had a checklist they were ticking off as they made the movie. As a result it can feel stuffed at times. But this however is a very minor nuisance, easily forgotten, and just as easily forgiven.
But, let’s be honest. No matter what I write here, you will most probably go and watch this film. It is “Star Wars,” after all. Before Hogwarts or Middle Earth or Narnia, there was a Galaxy Far Far away, and no matter your age, or walk of life or background, honestly, we’ll always be up for another visit.
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